Brexit draft withdrawal agreement seeks to quell any rollback on environmental standards

Published by Niall Sargent on

November 16th, 2018

A provision seeking to sustain current levels of environmental protection across the island of Ireland post-Brexit has been included in the draft withdrawal agreement released yesterday.

The draft agreement includes a clause that seeks to ensure that neither the EU nor the UK can roll back on environmental laws, regulations and practices following the UK’s planned exit from the bloc next March.

This includes stringent rules on the likes of environmental impact assessments, air quality monitoring, biodiversity conservation, access to justice in environmental matters and climate mitigation measures.

There are currently over 650 pieces of EU legislation in force to protect the environment, habitats, air quality, waste, food safety and a myriad of other areas.

These laws and regulations are the principal drivers for the vast majority of environmental protection in place in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The agreement would also oblige both parties to continue to respect the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, as set out in the EU treaties, as well as in international conventions.

This is especially important in the Irish context for cross-border control and enforcement on the likes of waste dumping and air and water pollution from industrial and agricultural facilities in the border counties.

While welcoming the move, the Environmental Pillar warned that the effectiveness of these provisions will rely on ensuring that the UK puts robust measures in place to guarantee oversight and enforcement of environmental standards, including in Northern Ireland.

Theresa May at ‘The Pioneers: Police and Crime Commissioners, one year on’ Photo: Policy Exchange

The political declaration that will frame the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship will also need to ensure the UK cannot undercut EU environmental standards in a future trade deal, the coalition of 30 environmental NGOs said.

The Pillar said that it is also concerned that the UK’s proposal for an environmental watchdog for England does not meet the requirements described in the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Environmental Pillar Brexit spokesperson, Oonagh Duggan, said: “It is critical that these environmental commitments are fully reflected in the Political Declaration and developed in the negotiations on the long-term future relationship.

“To minimise the risks of damage to our shared environment, the future relationship must ensure continued alignment of environmental protection on the island of Ireland,” she added.

In a submission to the Dáil last year, the Northern Ireland Environment Link and the Pillar said that the greatest environmental challenge posed by Brexit is the potential loosening of legislative protection for the natural environment.

The joint submission suggests that the UK and Northern Irish Governments should priorities the high standards of legislative protection for nature in domestic law which they claim is “vital in order to ensure the conservation of our shared natural heritage for future generations”.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London